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Absent judge keeps US hikers in Iran jail: lawyer

20 september 2011, 17:05
Two US hikers convicted of spying in Iran are still in a prison in Tehran as a judge who is to authorise their release has yet to return from leave, AFP reports, citing their lawyer on Tuesday.

"I went to the court today and they told me that the... judge is not here. I waited a while and after some time I left. They told me that they will call me" when the judge returns, the lawyer, Masoud Shafii, told AFP.

The release on bail of the two Americans, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, has already been approved by one judge, and Shafii had been told on Sunday to expect the second judge to return to work on Tuesday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told US media last week that the pair, who have been held since being arrested near the mountainous border with Iraq on July 31, 2009, would be released imminently.

But the judiciary, dominated by ultra-conservatives, said later that no decision had yet been taken and that it was studying a request by the lawyer to post bail.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested along with a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who left Iran in September last year after being granted bail on humanitarian and medical grounds.

As with her two jailed friends, Shourd's bail had also been set at $500,000 and was paid through Oman, a US Gulf ally that maintains friendly relations with Iran.

"Everything is in place to post bail (for Bauer and Fattal) and to have them released, except for the signature of a judge" to post bail, Shafii said on Saturday.

Shafii previously told AFP he had been officially notified by the court his clients can be released after posting bail, but that he still lacked the signature of one of the two judges.

He did not specify who would pay the bail, as the United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.

On August 21, Bauer and Fattal were each sentenced to eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran on charges of espionage and illegal entry. They have appealed against the ruling.

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